Supreme Court rules Trump administration can halt census work early

Clay Curtis
October 14, 2020

The Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for its ruling on ending the count.

They said the census schedule was cut short to accommodate a July order from Trump that would exclude people in the country illegally from the numbers used to decide how many congressional seats each state gets.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the high court's decision, saying "respondents will suffer substantial injury if the Bureau is permitted to sacrifice accuracy for expediency".

In a statement, Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the attorneys who helped bring the lawsuit to extend the census schedule, noted that the order "will result in irreversible damage" despite the challengers' efforts to "secure more time on the clock to achieve a fair and accurate count".

The census count's accuracy is critical, as it determines how the US House of Representatives and state legislatures draw voting districts during the next round of redistricting and guides the federal government in allocating $1.5 trillion a year in aid.

Lower courts previously ordered the administration to keep counting through October 31, reverting to an extended schedule that Trump officials had first proposed in April in response to delays caused by the pandemic and then abruptly chose to abandon in July.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California issued an injunction effectively ordering the Census Bureau to continue its count through October 31.

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Since May, the Census Bureau has reported delays in the counting, owing to the pandemic.

In April, the Census Bureau submitted a plan to complete its count by October 31 and report apportionment figures - the numbers used to determine each state's representative count - at the end of April 2021.

The proposal to extend the apportionment deadline passed the Democratic-controlled House, but the Republican-controlled Senate didn't take up the request. They argued that collection activity needed to end now so the Census Bureau could meet the December 31 deadline for providing the nationwide data that will be used to divide up seats in the House and divvy up federal money. But on August 3, shortly after Trump announced that people in the country illegally would not be included in the count, the Commerce Department said it would end field operations early.

Despite the Constitution's requirement to include the "whole number of persons in each state" and the president's limited authority over the census, Trump wants to try to exclude unauthorized immigrants from those numbers.

The Supreme Court decision comes as a report by the the American Statistical Association has found that a shortened schedule, dropped quality control procedures, pending lawsuits and the outside politicization of some parts of the 2020 census have raised questions about the quality of the nation's head count that need to be answered if the final numbers are going to be trusted.

"With no explanation or rationale, a majority simply decided that our people do not deserve to be counted, thus continuing a long history of leaving Indian peoples at the margins of the US society at large and economy", Lewis said in a statement.

As a result, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) said the court's decision could mean that all counting efforts and outreach will end in the next few days.

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